Weber and Dostoyevsky on Church, Sect and Democracy

  • Charles Turner


Among historians of ideas, any number of ‘elective affinities’ have been sought between Weber and his predecessors or contemporaries. Here I suggest another: between Weber’s formulations of the relationships between church, sect and democracy and certain themes in Dostoyevsky’s writing. Dostoyevsky was not a central influence on Weber, but we do know that he had read and discussed The Brothers Karamazov, making explicit reference to it on more than one occasion.3 We know from Honigsheim that scarcely a week passed without Dostoyevsky’s name being heard at the Webers’ Sunday gatherings.4 What Weber ‘took’ from Dostoyevsky is perhaps no more than what he tried to take from any great novelist: an awareness of the tragic irreconcilability of opposed value positions and a corresponding ability to do equal justice to rival world-views. As one who was religiously ‘unmusical’, nowhere would his admiration have been greater than in Dostoyevsky’s treatment of lives lived according to, or in defiance of, religious precepts.5


Social Form Voluntary Association Social Ethic Prove Ground Christian Church 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1999

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  • Charles Turner

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